Ranking the Most Unguardable 2014 NBA Draft Prospects in NCAA Tournament
The 2014 NCAA tournament is chock-full of attractive NBA draft prospects, but who are the most unguardable of the bunch?
Athleticism and ball-handling ability certainly help, but they're not the only factors that make someone an indefensible force. Traits like timing, footwork and a quick shot release are also handy.
We broke down the guys who drive defenses crazy, ranking them based on their ability to create and make shots against their peers. Versatility and one-on-one scoring prowess were taken into account.
Our criteria for these rankings include college hoops stars who are top NBA draft prospects—in other words, standouts who are near locks to get drafted, most of them in the first round. We didn't include "unguardable" players who are long shots to get picked.
Which dark horses snuck onto our list, and who landed at the top?
*Joel Embiid omitted due to back injury, which has ruled him out until at least the second weekend of the tournament.
Honorable Mention: Gary Harris, Michigan State SG (6'4" Sophomore)
With the ability to fire away from distance, weave his way to mid-range jumpers or slash all the way to the rim, Gary Harris is a tricky cover.
After a promising freshman campaign, Harris developed into a legitimate star and draft prospect as a sophomore. He improved his ability to put it on the deck, and he confidently drove the ball into traffic much more frequently.
Just when you think he's merely a perimeter weapon, he maneuvers past his man and finishes strong at the rim. That kind of horizontal skill and vertical talent has the late-lottery NBA clubs eyeing him.
Harris hasn't entirely dominated from a statistical standpoint this year, notching 16.9 points per game on 42 percent shooting. But his improvement has drawn more attention from opposing defenses, made Michigan State a better club and points to a high upside at the next level.
10. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut (6'1" Senior)
Try staying in front of this guy.
UConn's decorated senior is a master at manipulating defenses, using his smorgasbord of hesitation dribbles, crossovers and jump-stops to blow past his man. Shabazz Napier knows when to make that move toward the hoop, and he's also proficient at using pick-and-rolls to his advantage.
Napier isn't the most consistent finisher when he gets near the rim in a congested area because he can't rise up and score over people.
That hurts his ranking here, but he compensates with a nice mid-range game that includes fadeaways, runners and pump fakes. He's getting to the free-throw line 6.1 times per game.
9. Russ Smith, Louisville PG (6'0" Senior)
If you thought it was tough to stay in front of Shabazz Napier, give Russ Smith a try.
Louisville's turbo-charged point man can slice through defenses with his speed and devastating moves. He's using those gifts to the tune of 18.3 points per game on 47 percent shooting in 2013-14, and his penetration skills may be enough to earn an early second-round pick in the draft.
Despite his diminutive stature, Smith can score among the trees inside. According to Hoop-math.com, Smith converts 63.4 percent of his field-goal attempts at the rim.
In addition, he's become much more efficient and consistent as a three-point shooter this season, making him that much more difficult to defend.
When you watch him constantly leaving defenders in the dust, you know why NBA teams would love to have him as a spark plug off the bench.
8. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State G (6'4" Sophomore)
Marcus Smart doesn't have the mid-range creativity of Jabari Parker or the elite athleticism of Andrew Wiggins. And he doesn't have a consistent three-point shot compared to many backcourt prospects.
Yet he scored 18.6 points per game in Big 12 play this year and finds ways to foil opponents in big games.
When you pair his determination to get to the rim with his 225-pound frame, it leads to a lot of baskets slender guys can't get. Smart can play through contact—in fact, he thrives on contact and stays focused on finishing the play.
Let's face it: He's not a high lottery pick simply due to his defense. Teams can get that later in the draft if they want. He's in high demand because he can confidently attack and put pressure on adversaries as a scorer and quarterback.
Smart has been scrutinized nearly as much as the ballyhooed freshmen, and ultimately he stacks up well because he wants to beat people more than they want to beat him.
7. T.J. Warren, N.C. State F (6'8" Sophomore)
He may never be a dominant scorer in the Association, but pro scouts have to like what T.J. Warren has done in the ACC this year.
Although he does most of his work before he gets the ball, he's still extremely difficult to guard once he catches it. He's tall enough to rise up and shoot over defenders from the high post, and he can quickly flip a floater over them when he's driving baseline. His smooth mid-range game has yielded 44 percent shooting on two-point jumpers, according to Hoop-math.com.
Warren has a great touch around the rim, and that's enhanced by a tremendous awareness of where he is in relation to the basket and his defender.
If he had a more efficient three-point shot (27 percent in 2013-14), and his advanced ball-handling skills were a little better, he would be higher on this list. But you have to admire the way he registered 24.9 points per game in a strong conference.
6. Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette PG (6'3" Junior)
Elfrid Payton doesn't have a reliable three-point shot, yet he's unstoppable for opposing guards.
The mid-major star led the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns to the Sun Belt title with his shifty ball-handling skills, top-tier athleticism and scoring dexterity.
Using his 6'7" wingspan and tremendous foot speed, Payton can blow by people with rangy crossovers on a dime. Once he gets into the lane, he can score with finesse, rise up and finish strong or pass if the defense overcommits to him.
He might be a small-school hero who's seemingly untested against upper-echelon NCAA athletes, but he played on Team USA's gold-medal winning U-19 squad last summer. There's a reason he's a first-rounder in many mocks, and that's because he's got next-level size, speed and scoring instincts.
5. Julius Randle, Kentucky PF (6'9" Freshman)
Not many players can handle the combination of speed and strength Julius Randle brings to the table.
When he catches the ball in good position, he'll square up and blow by slower opponents or pound smaller opponents into the hardwood. Kentucky has survived several games due to his relentlessness in the paint.
Randle isn't flawless by any stretch of the imagination, as he's a bit turnover-prone and still favors his left too much. That being said, he finds his way to the basket and commands a ton of attention from several defenders.
He's shown glimpses of catching the ball at the arc and making a multi-dribble drive toward the hoop. We've also seen some nice footwork in the post and effective pump fakes.
When he sharpens these skills and becomes more consistent as a shooter, he'll be unguardable in the NBA like he is in college.
4. Nik Stauskas, Michigan SG (6'6" Sophomore)
Last year, Nik Stauskas wouldn't have been in this type of conversation—but after a year of dismantling defenses with his shot-creating and shot-making ability, he's in the thick of the discussion.
He fueled Michigan's 2013-14 success with his shooting prowess and knack for breaking down defenders off the bounce.
Stauskas uses hesitations, crossovers and step-backs to free himself for shots, and even when defenders stay disciplined, it's tough for them to challenge his high release. The sophomore star is 6'6" with a 6'7" wingspan, so he can rise to shoot and elevate when he drives to the rim.
He won't be as unguardable in the NBA as he is in college, but he'll pose matchup problems for plenty of shooting guards and ill-prepared small forwards.
3. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas F (6'8" Freshman)
Even though his skills aren't refined and he doesn't own an intricate set of moves, Andrew Wiggins is unguardable when he wants to be.
With his explosive drives, speedy spin moves and quick step-backs, the Kansas forward is too much for most college foes to handle. All it takes is one or two dribbles for him to find a launching pad close enough to the hoop.
Once he finds that launching pad, it's either a bucket or a foul. Wiggins' vertical aptitude and mid-air agility allow him to attempt shots most players wouldn't think about.
Opponents can't simply play containment-minded defense because Wiggins is a streaky shooter who can pile up points from the perimeter.
When he packs on some muscle and tightens up his dribbling, he'll be an immensely versatile threat.
2. Doug McDermott, Creighton F (6'8" Senior)
Although his offensive repertoire won't entirely translate to the NBA, Creighton's Doug McDermott is one of the most unguardable draft prospects of March Madness.
He's a master at using angles, spacing and timing to get his shot off.
And about that shot...well, if you give him an inch or a split second, he'll let it fly with deadly accuracy from anywhere. McDermott is a career 46 percent shooter from three-point land and 55 percent from the field.
Post-ups won't be his strong suit in the NBA, but when he gets matched up with a similar-sized forward or smaller wing, he'll make quick work of his opportunity with devastating footwork and touch off the glass.
When you watch his below-average athleticism, it's easy to wonder why he's even on this "unguardable" list. But we can't argue with his outlandish skills and 3,000-plus points.
1. Jabari Parker, Duke F (6'8" Freshman)
Jabari Parker is such a tough cover because he's polished and physically imposing, which is extremely rare for a college freshman.
Slender small forwards can't bottle him up because he'll power past them with quick, efficient spin moves or bull drives. Post players can't guard him on their own because he has the handle and quickness of a wing.
In other words, it takes a team to stop him, and you have to be a special player to slow him down individually.
Even when some teams think they've collectively corralled him, he turns and burns them on the baseline or springs back for a jumper. Parker has a natural feel for where to exploit the defense and when exactly to time his attack.
The only way to really limit his damage is to turn him into a jump-shooter and hope his shot isn't falling.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR